Field Notes: Filling the Youth Employment Gap

Bridgespan researchers share new hiring practices aimed at improving future job opportunities and income for "disconnected" youths.

A single year of unemployment for America's youth population can have a "scarring" effect on their future employability and income. In seeking a solution, a group of Bridgespan researchers discovered that talent pipelines geared towards youths’ aptitudes and potential are more effective at recruiting and retaining employees than those focused on traditional hiring qualifications.

Companies such as Starbucks, CVS Health, Walmart, and JPMorgan Chase are partnering with opportunity youth based nonprofits like Year Up to fill the nearly six million entry-level jobs that will be created from 2012-2022. On his company’s participation, Vice President of Technology at American Express, Destin Dexter said:

The Year Up interns loved it. They came to work with smiles on their faces and leaned in. They brought aptitude, and they were ready to learn.

A successful talent pipeline incorporates three practices:

1.      Screening Candidates In Versus Out. 
Focusing on competencies instead of past roles or educational achievement. The researchers reference a study that found:

Only 1 percent of New Mexican young adults met criteria for jobs that required a college degree, 33 percent cleared the hurdle when measured by skills and aptitude.

2.       Mentoring on the job.
Training and support around workplace skills. On the subject of his managers’ help overcoming barriers to employment, a Year Up intern stated:

He gave me the opportunity to become a lead and work with people in all kinds of situations. I’m not afraid anymore of talking.

3.       Empathy, Accountability, and Peer Groups.
Anticipating and responding to workers individual needs around flexibility, intellectual curiosity, and responsibility.

Tori Lamont, an entry-level recruit at SK Grocers, was promoted to team lead from line worker. After wandering away from her shift one day rather than be dismissed, her manager inquired about her cause for leaving. She had gone to see what others did at the factory and what she might aspire to.  Though her pay was docked for a day, she was later reassigned to a position where she could work across a variety of the factories’ functions.

There are other benefits to companies that practice aptitude based hiring for entry-level positions. For example employees stay an average of 44 months compared to 18 months for traditional hires. Additionally, Year Up interns have a 72 percent conversion rate to full time versus about 60 percent for interns from traditional hiring pools.

On the growing trend, the authors stated:

“The vanguard in hiring opportunity youth have been generous in sharing their experiences, making it easier for other companies to follow, find workforce partners, and match candidates to entry level needs that are mission critical.”

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